Sunday, April 4, 2010

Volunteer Selection and Engagement

In my last blog post, I shared the findings from the landmark study conducted by the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund and VolunteerMatch, the most of encouraging of which was the verification that volunteers give more than non-volunteers and the quantification of that phenomenon; they give ten times as much as non-volunteers.


So, all we have to do is recruit volunteers, and wait for the 10x payoff, right? Well, not exactly. We have to select the right volunteers, assign the weightiest roles to the most promising of them, and craft interesting, important tasks for them so they assume ownership of the enterprise and give generously and enthusiastically of their time, talent and treasure. So that should be a snap, right? Well, not exactly.


The most important volunteer body is the board of directors. Since the CEO and senior administrators will spend more time with that body than any other, it must be filled with highly capable and highly philanthropic people. If board members are capable and wealthy but not philanthropic, the board experience, no matter how strategic and interesting, will not make them so, and this is where a lot of organizations make costly mistakes. They recruit board members because of their wealth and stature and assume that philanthropy will follow. But, if board members gave nothing before they joined the board, ten times zero will still be zero. If they gave very little before the board, ten times very little will still be insignificant. And, if they gave little or nothing before, even stating a philanthropic expectation during the recruitment and receiving a head nod back, will not ensure their future philanthropy. You have to narrow your recruitment to those with a considerable philanthropic record, preferably with your organization. If not, your CEO and senior leaders will be caught giving most of their time to volunteers who that will never make large donations, thereby limiting the time they could be spending with more philanthropic prospects. In the worst of all worlds we find boards with little philanthropic propensity and presidents who are over-managing or somehow captive of them and, thus, spending too little time with more promising prospects, while both question why their advancement operation isn’t raising more money. Ay, chihuahua. No campaign or initiative can come close to reaching its potential if most of the administration’s attention is lavished on the least philanthropic volunteers.


So, if we’re prudent enough to recruit true philanthropists to our board, all we have to do is park their carcasses in that nice board room and wait for the checks to be written, right? Well, not exactly. If the brine of board experience is not rich enough, even the plumpest and most promising cucumbers will never turn to sweet philanthropic pickles, no matter how long we wait. Board members have to be given real work and accept real responsibilities. Presidents who exert too much control over their boards or who spoon feed them too much self-serving, self-protecting pablum remove them from the institutional challenges and opportunities that are most likely to motivate their greater giving. A board that is deeply engaged and challenged to set strategic direction and to accept ownership of its goals is far more likely to give in larger amounts. Board members should not only be assigned to committees; each committee should work toward a specific task with a specific set of institutional goals. Those goals should include a clear articulation of what defines, differentiates and distinguishes that institution, the production of a limited set of compelling projects that will inspire significant philanthropic support, and regular reviews of major gifts received to ensure they are being used and managed for optimal strategic impact.


Only if we do all these things -- select the truly philanthropic for the most important volunteer slots and give them the weightiest tasks of the greatest strategic import in authentic pursuit of a greater good -- can we expect to see their giving grow and to realize the 10X phenomenon.


In my next blog post, I will speak to other ways of ensuring that we match other important volunteer slots with the most worthwhile philanthropists.

1 comment:

DCW said...

Very nice usage of metaphor here, it made me laugh:

"So, if we’re prudent enough to recruit true philanthropists to our board, all we have to do is park their carcasses in that nice board room and wait for the checks to be written, right? Well, not exactly. If the brine of board experience is not rich enough, even the plumpest and most promising cucumbers will never turn to sweet philanthropic pickles, no matter how long we wait."